Four more days and one forced night march later, Lord Tywin Lannister crossed beneath the rusted iron gate of Harrenhal at the head of an exhausted army. This morning, many of his men were dragging their heels as they made ready to leave. Lady Ailyn hadn't complained but he saw her almost slip off her horse several hours before. Lord Hugh had been next to her and had caught her arm before she fell. He frowned to himself. It was time to separate them.
He rode his horse into the main courtyard and caught sight of a small corral of prisoners with a hefty numbers of severed heads mounted in the rafters above them. Apparently, his instructions to The Mountain hadn't been clear enough as he maneuvered his horse over to have a word.
Meanwhile, more men poured into the courtyard followed by Lady Ailyn. She rode alone and Raena came to a slow stop as a soldier walked over to take her reins. Ailyn was too tired to keep her shoulders from slumping forward. Her hair was dirty and her cloak and dress were spattered with mud up to her waist. She leaned forward and gradually dismounted, biting back a hiss of pain as the wound in her leg flared. The constant jarring and bent position of her leg was not contributing to her recovery in the least. She held onto her saddle for a moment and caught her breath.
She glanced over to where Lord Tywin had gone and shuddered at the sight of the severed heads. Tywin appeared to be giving orders to a man nearly a hand and a half taller than his own impressive height.
"Where are Lord Tywin's chambers?" she asked of the soldier holding her horse.
"Just through the main doorway, m'lady. Third floor," he replied promptly.
She nodded and forced herself to let go of the saddle. She took several slow steps forward but the soldier asked her to wait for someone to escort her.
"I'll be fine," she muttered tiredly, moving forward.
She had almost made it to the few steps up to the main doorway when a young knight came up beside her and gently took her arm.
She looked over at him in surprise.
"Forgive me my lady. Someone should be walking with you," he insisted apologetically.
"You are risking Lord Tywin's displeasure by taking my arm," she warned gently, not pulling away from him.
"I wish to speak with you, my lady and I may not get another chance," he explained leading her inside.
"What is so important Ser?" she asked, wincing as she took the steps into the castle.
"Ser Dylan, my lady. My brother, Sam, was wounded in our last battle against the Starks. He nearly died but Maester Doran made him a poultice from the herbs you gave him and my brother healed. I wanted to thank you for saving his life," his words came tumbling out as he walked with her through the drafty hall to the main staircase.
"I am glad of it Ser Dylan," she said kindly with a smile. He grinned back at her.
Suddenly, Lord Tywin strode up behind Ser Dylan and cleared his throat authoritatively. The grin slid off the knight's face as he took an abrupt step back and came sharply to attention.
Lady Ailyn opened her mouth to speak in his defense but Lord Tywin merely handed him his gloves with a steely glare.
"Inform my steward that I am here," the Lord of Casterly Rock commanded. Ser Dylan bowed quickly and dashed up the steps two at a time, his sword clinking against his armor.
Lord Tywin gave Lady Ailyn an appraising look and then stepped up beside her, his hand out to assist her.
She looked down at his hand but made no move to take it.
"Take my hand, my lady," said Lord Tywin with forced patience.
"No it's just… I'm going to need both your hands," she requested quietly, not meeting his gaze.
Her defeated expression was starting to worry him.
"I could carry you…" he began with a furtive glance up the long, dark staircase. The ache in his knees and lower back argued vehemently against the proposition.
"No. I feel useless enough already. Please, put your arm around me," Lady Ailyn said softly, leaning away from the wall toward him.
He wrapped an arm around her waist and clasped her right hand. She picked up her dress with her free hand and raised her eyes to the task ahead.
Lord Tywin held back a sharp rebuke as he saw her lower lip tremble.
The last thing he needed was her bursting into tears. He didn't have the patience to deal with that.
"You've killed six men since I've met you my lady; surely a staircase holds no fears for you?" he asked as gently as he could.
She looked at him in surprise then smiled gratefully.
She took a deep breath and together, they walked slowly up the staircase. Near the top, she started biting her lip and making soft noises of pain when she put weight on her wounded leg.
"Nearly there," coaxed Lord Tywin.
When was the last time he had used that tone?
Finally, they took the last step up and paused at the top.
"I need to sit down," she whispered, grasping his hand more tightly.
"Come," he urged, leading her down the hall. One of his men was posted outside a door. He opened the door for them and inclined his head respectfully as they passed through.
It was a large, open room with a hole in the far wall but a fire was blazing in the enormous hearth, throwing a decent amount of heat. Lord Tywin still kept his arm around her. He wasn't sure that she could stand on her own without falling. Two servants quickly ran in and stood at attention in front of the fire.
"Forgive us, my lord, we weren't expecting you today," stammered the elder of the two, his green eyes wide with fear.
"Is my room prepared?" demanded Lord Tywin.
"Yes but we have only just started furnishing a room for Lady Ailyn, my lord. It will be sometime before it is fit to live in," he explained.
He felt her wilt alarmingly.
"Show me to my room," he ordered the young man with the green eyes. "And you," he said, indicating the other one with dirty brown hair: "finish Lady Ailyn's room immediately."
"I'll sit by the fire, my lord," she said so softly he barely heard her as both men moved to do their lord's bidding.
"You'll do no such thing," he retorted firmly, and steered her after his steward.
She looked up at him, frowning in confusion but she could do little to stop him from moving her forward.
His room was considerably warmer than the outer room. A good fire was going and there were no windows or drafts. A large four poster bed with crimson curtains sat opposite the fire as well as several tables, chairs and an elegant, wooden wardrobe. A large, red silk banner with a roaring, golden lion covered most of one wall.
He led her over by the bed and turned her to face him.
"I shouldn't…" she began but he cut her off.
"No, you shouldn't be here. I am aware that this is highly improper but you must lie down before you faint. I do not intend to sleep for some time. I will wake you later for dinner," he promised her, reaching out and undoing the clasp of her cloak. He slipped the muddy blue fabric off her shoulders and, despite the warmth of the room, she shivered and wrapped her arms protectively around herself.
She looked longingly at the plush, fur covered bed and then back up at him.
"I can't…" she shook her head.
"You will," he insisted in a tone that no man dared contradict.
He couldn't quite decipher the look she was giving him; it was somewhere between fear and effrontery.
A loud argument in the outer room drew his attention away from her and he strode out to see what was going on, leaving her alone in his room. He pulled the door closed behind him.
Ser Amory and Lord Hugh were arguing about where to station the remaining battalion of men.
"Enough!" snapped Lord Tywin. He rubbed his eyes tiredly.
"Where is Lady Ailyn?" asked Lord Hugh, glancing around.
"She is resting," he informed Lord Hugh, taking his hand from his eyes.
"Amory, I want the men organized and rested. See to it that the prisoners are being put to work," ordered Lord Tywin, moving over to his desk where there already were a hefty number of papers and maps laid out.
"Lord Hugh you will be going with your men first thing in the morning to scout the surrounding area. I don't want any surprises while we are camped here," continued Tywin as Ser Amory bowed and turned to leave.
Lord Hugh paused and made to ask another question but the icy look from his lord silenced him.
"As you wish, Lord Tywin," he replied quietly, stepping out behind Ser Amory. The guard at the door pulled it shut, so the only sound in the room was the crackling fire. Lord Tywin took several deep breaths to gather his thoughts and then turned to go back to his room.
He pushed the door open and glanced inside. Lady Ailyn's dress was draped across the same chair as her cloak, her muddy boots on the floor beside the chair. He noticed a small mound in the bedding and walked quietly over to it.
Lady Ailyn had already fallen asleep. She was lying on her side, curled up into a small ball with the heavy fur blanket pulled up to her cheek. He stood looking down at her for a moment.
Perhaps he had been too hard on her. He doubted there were many women in Westeros who could have gone through all she had in the past few weeks and born the pain and stress of it so well.
His steward came in then with a bowl of water for his lord to shave with.
"On the table," said Lord Tywin quietly to him, pulling the crimson curtains closed around the sleeping lady.
With his steward's help, Lord Tywin quickly changed out of his armor and into a heavy, dark blue tunic with a silver inlaid pattern. He washed his hair and shaved himself. No man was allowed to get that close to him with a naked blade. He glanced at the bed one last time and then swept out to find his brother.
Lady Ailyn was in her garden at Willow Glen again listening to the soft water noises and the rustling of wind in the willows. She stood watching a hawk preening when the breeze changed direction. The hawk flapped off with a screech and Lady Ailyn turned her head to watch it go. When she looked back, there was a large, golden lion padding towards her.
She gasped and wrapped her arms protectively around her stomach but did not turn to run. She was less afraid this time and the lion was not openly growling, though there was still a low rumble coming from its throat. It paused a few yards away and began to pace back and forth in front of her, confused. She met its golden eyes and watched motionlessly as it padded up to her and nudged her arm a few times with its nose. The lion shook its bushy mane and sat back on its haunches, opening its mouth.
"Lady Ailyn?" asked the lion.
Ailyn jerked awake to see Lord Tywin standing over her, moving his hand back to his side.
"It's getting late my lady and your room is prepared. You should eat something before you sleep again," said Lord Tywin, taking a step back.
"Oh, thank you, my lord," murmured Ailyn, propping herself up on an elbow and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She looked over at the chair where she'd laid her dress and cloak but only her boots remained.
"Where is my dress, Lord Tywin?" she asked uncertainly, looking up at him.
He glanced at the chair as well with a surprised expression.
"The servants must have taken it with my things to be washed," was his reply.
He swept from view and Lady Ailyn heard him open his wardrobe. There was a rustle of fabric and then he returned to her, holding a long, deep red robe.
"You may wear this in the meantime. The privy is on the other side of the bed if you need it," Lord Tywin informed her, turning to go. She watched him leave, closing the door behind him.
Lady Ailyn pushed the covers off her and slid her legs slowly out of the bed. She needed to change the bandaging on her wound. She bent down and slipped her boots on over her stockings. Her corset had been removed with her dress, leaving her feeling oddly naked despite being fully covered by her under dress. She stood on shaky legs and pulled on Lord Tywin's red robe. The sleeves were too long and the hem dragged on the ground but what disconcerted Lady Ailyn most was the musky, masculine smell it had. She tried to shake away the odd mental image of Lord Tywin constantly embracing her.
Ailyn quickly went to the privy and then opened the door to the main room. Mercifully, it was empty, save for Lord Tywin who was seated at the head of a long table surrounded by papers and maps. It was dark, the room lit by dozens of candles and the glowing fire in the hearth. There was a place laid for one with a steaming bowl of soup and a small plate of bread and chicken on Lord Tywin's right, near the fire. He stood when she entered and turned to face her.
"I trust you slept well my lady?" he asked, his countenance carefully blank.
"Yes, thank you," replied Lady Ailyn, taking the seat he was offering her.
She dipped the bread in the soup and began eating, realizing her hunger.
Lord Tywin sat down and went back to sifting through letters, leaving her to eat in peace.
After a moment, Lady Ailyn paused, stirring her soup pensively.
Lord Tywin glanced up at her.
"Is something wrong?"
She blushed, still looking down at her soup.
"I'd prefer it if you didn't speak about this to anyone my lord," she asked quietly, looking up at him.
"If you are worried about your honor my lady, I think it is safe to say no one will question your conduct," answered Lord Tywin, meeting her troubled gaze.
He read confusion in her eyes and the crinkling of her brow.
"To doubt your honor would also call into question my own. That would be…unwise," he explained, the underlying menace very apparent in his tone.
For once, Lady Ailyn appreciated the kind of power Lord Tywin wielded.
"I see," she said with a small smile.
She finished her dinner, keeping his robe tucked snugly around her.
"Your room is on the other side of the fireplace, my lady. I am told all your possessions have been moved in. Tomorrow, I will order a full bath for you," Lord Tywin told her, indicating the door behind her.
She stood up, chuckling to herself.
He looked up at her in surprise.
"Are you suggesting my scent is offensive to you, my lord?" she asked playfully.
"No, I am suggesting that it could be more agreeable," he answered with a trace of amusement.
She smiled at him.
"Thank you, my lord…for everything," Lady Ailyn said sincerely, dipping into a slight curtsey.
He nodded to her, the amusement gone from his eyes.
"Good night, my lady."
"Good night, my lord."